Genome Editing Technique Improves Hearing Loss

February 24, 2018

What if you could hear noise 15 decibels lower than you can now? For most of us, that would be a big improvement in our ability to hear as we age. Well, researchers think they've found a way to do just that. But, like so many of these new techniques, you may not need it.

Researchers see great potential for genome editing in a variety of conditions, as even tiny mutations can have major effects on our health. However, correcting these mutations requires extreme precision. New tools are just beginning to give scientists opportunities to try their hand at this. And one area that they're focusing on is genetic hearing loss.

For a study published in the journal Nature, researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute focused on a mutation in a gene called Tmc1. Over time, this tiny mutation causes the inner ears to lose hair cells. Without these cells, the inner ear loses the ability to detect sound waves and transfer the information to the brain. In both humans and mice, a mutation in just one copy of the gene (remember, we have two copies of each gene) can lead to deafness. So the researchers wanted to investigate whether eliminating this mutated copy could preserve hearing in mice.

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They were able to do this using a genome editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9 that essentially acts like a tiny pair of scissors. By cutting the DNA strands, it can stop a gene from functioning. The catch is that the research team needed the Cas9 enzyme to disable only the bad copy. Sometimes the enzyme can get a little "scissor-happy," even if it's programmed to only attack the bad gene. So they actually packaged the tool into a greasy bundle that would slip in and out of cells, giving it just enough time to eliminate the bad gene without looking for something else to destroy.

Sure enough, it worked. In fact, after four weeks, the mice that had been treated could hear sounds an average of 15 decibels lower than the untreated mice could. For reference, 15 decibels is about the difference between a low conversation and a garbage disposal, so that's a significant improvement. The researchers are excited about the potential this treatment could have in preventing hearing loss due to genetic mutations in humans.

So why don't you need this technology? First, it's going to take some time before this option is available. Second, when it is, they will likely use it primarily on children with hearing challenges. Once the damage from this particular mutation sets in, it can be irreversible. And third, age-related hearing loss can be improved without a fancy technique. Many studies have shown that the right nutrients can help you hear better by supporting auditory nerve function and promoting circulation to the ears. You'll find these nutrients in Advanced Hearing Formula.

Yours for better health,

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